Essential Oils: The What, How & Everything Between

Posted on 28 August 2015
Author:Emilia Obiekea

Many of us love essential oils and add them to just about everything when it comes to our natural hair and skin care regimens. They are very beneficial. They can be soothing, invigorating and even therapeutic. No matter how they are used it has to be done in a safe way. 


What are essential oils?

Essential oils are volatile oils that are produced by plants. The very potent oil is extracted from many plants to create the concentrated oils that we love.


How are they extracted?

The are extracted by being cold pressed, steam distilled and solvent extraction.

Details about the extraction processes

Cold pressed extraction: Is the best extraction method for fruit (whole or the skins). This is done to help the oil to retain their natural fruit fragrance. The extraction is done by pricking the fruit skin, applying pressure to the skin with a press and the essential oils are released. Any other liquid that comes from the extraction, such as juice, is removed then the oil is bottled. 

Steam distillation: Most essential oils are distilled by using steam. It is retained volatile oils are captured in vapor form. Usually this method is used for flowers, roots, leaves and a variety of barks. 

The process of steam distillation: Plant material is heated over hot water, the vapor is captured and cooled so that it becomes condensation then the essential oils are separated from the water. The water is not discarded. It is a hydrosol. A common hydrosol we all know of is rose water.

*Citrus essential oils are available by this method of extraction but looses a majority of its aromatic properties and color. No bueno. What's the point in getting it this way? None. 

Solvent extraction: Is usually done for plants that are hard to extract using the other 2 methods. The downside is that the solvents used can be toxic. Some common solvents are acetone, propane, and hexane. Nothing that we'd want on our hair or bodies. When done correctly the solvent is estimated to be 99% removed from the essential oil before bottling. Since there are trace amounts these oils are generally used to make perfumes and colognes. 


What products are essential oils used in?

They can be used for natural beauty products, aromatherapy, cleansers, diffusers, perfumes, body oil, colognes, bug and rodent repellents, etc... The possibilities are endless. 


How are they used for aromatherapy? 

Scent is one of our most powerful senses. Aromatherapy is the use of scents to relax, improve or stimulate your current mood. It can have a great impact on a persons emotions. 

A commonly used essential oil used for relaxation, that many find to be very calming, is lavender. On the other hand, fragrances impact different people in different ways. A person that smells lavender, for instance, can feel calm or while another person can feel invigorated. It is always a good idea to try out different aromas and see how well they work for you. 


Are essential oils actually safe?

That is a two-fold answer...Yes and No. When used properly they are safe and wonderful to use. 
These oils are very concentrated and when applied topically it is absorbed immediately. It is unsafe to use them undiluted. Some essential oils are used for detoxing the body while others are harmful to be used while pregnant.
You can dilute the essential oils in a liquid, butter or carrier oil of choice. Some great options to dilute the essential oils in for safe topical uses are grapeseed oil, shea butter, coconut oil, argan oil, mango butter, avocado oil, etc... whatever carrier oil you like you can incorporate it.


Buying & Storing Essential Oils

When buying your essential oils look into what method was used and what part of the plant the oils were extracted from. 

Avoid buying essential oils that are not contained in dark glass bottles. The lighter the glass the more the integrity of the oil is degraded.

The best way to select essential oils that you like is not by reading the descriptions provided online or on the bottle by the is best to go to a store and smell the tester samples on display. Then you know what you purchase is something that truly smells wonderful to you.

If it is in a plastic bottle...just leave it where you saw it. Essential oils are so concentrated some do tend to become corrosive. Not worth buying at all IMO.

The quality of the oil does matter. Poor extraction methods result in low quality oils. It is not worth spending money on a product that is provided in poor quality.

Be sure to keep your oils in a dark cool area. This helps the oil not to degrade.


Disclaimer: It is best to speak with your physician prior to usage of any essential oils. Never ever use essential oils undiluted. It is toxic unless diluted properly. 

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